Emergency: Mrs Gandhi strikes out with fury

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8 Sep 2012

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Moscow’s concern at the blaze of opposition to Mrs Gandhi became apparent when Kitsenko, Pravda correspondent in Madras, made a stinging attack on JP and when, on December 4, the opening day of the Bihar Assembly session, Soviet TV cameramen entered the assembly chamber contrary to the rule forbidding cameras in the chamber. Ilyashenko, chief of Soviet radio and television in New Delhi, said he was there “with the permission of the Government of India”.

In the storm of objection from Opposition benches, Soviet TV withdrew, and the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, IK Gujral, called upon to explain the intrusion, denied having granted permission, saying only that the Soviet request had been transmitted to the Bihar assembly secretariat. But the Soviet weight behind the Congress–CPI campaign against the Bihar Movement was now an open fact.

In December the Congress party inaugurated a series of secret conclaves. Narora, scene of the first, was an Uttar Pradesh village about hundred kilometres from Delhi. Barbed wire, armed guards and a thousand tents for military and police personnel, brought it into national prominence. Mohan Dharia, Union minister for works and housing, revealed, on March 17, 1975, in Poona that the Narora camp had been attended by Soviet embassy officials…

Public disillusionment with Congress’s performance centred on Mrs Gandhi. None of this, however, is likely to have made the extreme step of declaring a second emergency (an emergency had been in existence since the Bangladesh war) necessary to Mrs Gandhi if she had been sure of her own party’s loyal support. But it was becoming clear that the move to replace her, now being discussed, would allow no easy return.

A party far from bankrupt of leadership, in fact restless with aspiring leadership and with leaders smarting under blows to their pride and dignity, would use this opportunity to ease her out. Its brilliant rebel corps was waiting to do so. The Emergency was Mrs Gandhi’s second, and this time a literal coup against the opposition in her own party. Unless this had been so, the sweep of arrests during the night of June 25 would not have taken Congressmen from their beds, including Chandrasekhar and Ram Dhan, high office-bearers in the party.

More revealing, these arrests did not have the sanction of the Emergency provision of the Constitution. Mrs Gandhi’s cabinet did not meet until the morning of June 26 to take this decision. The President signed the proclamation on Mrs Gandhi’s orders during the night of the 25th. Clearly this sequence of events was intended to be a warning to wavering cabinet colleagues as well.

By June 26 they had been provided with reinforced, heavily armed guards at their gates, and some with armed escorts, ostensibly for their own protection, when they attended official engagements. Without doubt preparations for the smooth transformation to dictatorship proceeded without the knowledge of Mrs Gandhi’s Cabinet. They were made in consultation with selected aides and the police and intelligence network. Her own party was as much a victim of this lightning seizure of absolute power as opposing opinion outside it.

(Nayantara Sahgal has written nine novels and eight works of non-fiction. She is the recipient of the Sinclair Prize for Fiction, the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Amember of the Sahitya Akademi’s Advisory Board for English till she resigned during the Emergency, Sahgal served on the jury of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1990 and 1991. She has held fellowships in the United States at the Bunting Institute, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the National Humanities Center. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was awarded an honorary doctorate in literature by the University of Leeds in 1997. She is associated with the founding of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and served as its vice-president during the 1980s.)

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